Lawmakers also included language in the bill specifying that this round of Race to the Top must have a "robust early education component," although it is unclear whether the department will continue to have a separate competition for early-childhood education, as it did this year.
And the legislation includes $160 million for a new literacy initiative, serving children from birth to grade 12. The new money would come less than a year after lawmakers eliminated funding for a host of reading and writing programs, including the $250 million Striving Readers program, as part of an effort to slash overall domestic spending.
Funding for the Promise Neighborhood program, which provides grants to communities that want to pair health and other wraparound services with education, would double to $60 million, from nearly $30 million.
Separately, the Head Start early-childhood program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was also a winner in the 2012 budget, getting a $424 million boost, to $8 billion.
Other key administration priorities received level funding in the Education Department budget. The Investing in Innovation program, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations to scale up promising practices, would get nearly $150 million, the same as last year. And the School Improvement Grant program, or SIG, which helps turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools, would be flat-funded, at $534 million.
But the Teacher Incentive Fund, which allocates grants to help districts establish pay-for-performance programs, would be cut, from nearly $400 million last year to nearly $300 million in fiscal 2012.
Lawmakers were able to keep the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550, by making a major overhaul to some of the central provisions of the program, which helps low-income students cover the cost of higher education. For instance, lawmakers slashed the number of semesters students are eligible for grants to 12, from 18. And Congress lowered the income level that automatically qualifies students for a Pell Grant to $23,000, from $30,000.
The 2012 spending measure would also scrap a few programs. It provides no financing for the Foreign Language Assistance Program, which was financed at $27 million in fiscal 2011. Other casualties include the Teaching American History program, which received $45.9 million in fiscal 2011, and Voluntary Public School Choice, which received $25.7 million.
But some high-profile nonprofit organizations that were cut in the fiscal 2011 budget would have a second chance at funding under the new spending bill.
The new spending measure includes a $28.6 million set-aside for literacy programs in a flexible pot of money called the "Fund for the Improvement of Education," which got $65 million this year. At least half that new literacy money is supposed to go to school libraries in low-income communities. That could help make up for the loss of $19 million last fiscal year for the Literacy Through School Libraries.
The rest of the flexible aid can go to national nonprofit organizations that provide books and other literacy activities to low-income communities. That description is a close match for Reading is Fundamental, a book-distribution program that lost $25 million in federal funding last year.
"It seems obvious that they had a specific program in mind," Ms. Cohen said. But the language isn't unusual--education programs that are scrapped often get a second life in the Fund of the Improvement of Education, she added.
Similarly, the spending measure would set aside 1.5 percent of the $2.5 billion Improving Teacher Quality State grants for a competition for teacher-quality programs. The department ran a similar program this year. The funding would give national nonprofit organizations that lost federal aid in fiscal 2011, such as Teach For America and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, another shot at a grant.
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